A glimpse of world events colliding with personal life
When the Twin Towers collapsed, so did my marriage. We searched through the wreckage to salvage what we could but so much had been lost that it seemed best to build new structures, individually:
The attack on the towers happened swiftly in one agonizing day but a lot led up to that day. In the beginning, the terrorists had built a kind of trust with the US. Somewhere along the line, that trust became stilted. Some things started to divide the two groups. Cultural, religious and political differences caused 9/11. Extremists channeled feelings and attitudes they carried with them over time into a concentrated force that powerballed and exploded with their combined plan.
It wasn’t quite that way in my marriage. My Egyptian husband and I started out united, one tower, one strength. He opposed the highest leader in the Egyptian army as he fought for the right to marry me, a foreigner. He faced prison, retaliation to family, and his father’s wrath, all because he loved me without reserve.
We both grew up with strong shared values that esteemed family, kindness, respect, humility and a desire to please each other and others. Though we had faced obstacles before we settled down to live in the Middle East as a married couple, we established our dream of doing so. We believed our values would look past our mixed-faith marriage and the differences in our cultural and political upbringing would be manageable.
For us, the situations leading up to our personal 9/11 twin towers collapse included all of those aspects. Our marriage was hijacked by those differences. In our first year of marriage, I became pregnant with twins!
Though twins didn’t run in our families, we felt it was a reward for our long wait to start our lives together. A blessing.
Five months into my twin pregnancy, I faced a life-threatening condition called “pre-eclampsia,” and was immediately hospitalized. It went from moderate to an alarming “severe” level in a number of hours. In the course of my six-week hospital stay, I lost both babies , the latter which was born in the 25th week.
The loss, and all we went through, was very public in our small expatriate community and we handled it completely differently. Probably for both of us, but definitely for me, the word “twin” carried a heaviness, an anguish with it.
Our marriage began to go through some major upheaval. Cultural and religious differences prevented us from sharing our grief as we should have-as I wanted to. We couldn’t relate in the same way. It was probably then that we started secretly amassing (stockpiling?) our individual missiles against each other. While we tried to live up to individual expectations and work through the problems, I became pregnant again. This time I lost the baby in the third month. It seemed I was unable to give him a child.
In the summer of 2001, we took our first separate vacation.I headed for Scotland and my husband, who had always talked about living in California when we left the Middle East, visited that state. Originally, he planned to travel with a Lebanese friend but that fell through at the last minute. So he went alone. And had a frightening, terrible time.
When he returned to our home in the United Arab Emirates, he gave me an ultimatum. If our marriage was to survive, we would have to stay in the Middle East without ever living in America. He didn’t want to raise our children in America, if I ever could give him a child, that is. We grew further apart as I sought to make the choice he wanted. Could I live away from my family forever? I said, “Yes,” and hoped I could.
On September 11, 2001, the planes flew into the Twin Towers and they collapsed. It was evening where we were when it happened. My husband calmly walked into my office and told me. I ran to the television to watch the disaster unfold. The man I married, one I felt was compassionate to the core, seemed hard and unfeeling. He said it was my government’s fault.
The days that followed were filled with more recriminations. His friends came to our house and they all seemed critical of America’s response to the situation. Talks centered on unfair treatment of Arabs in the United States. Because of the negativity, my own defensiveness and my husband’s inability to empathize with what happened in New York City, we had our own huge collapse.
When I see footage of the dazed workers standing in the dust-filled rubble of Ground Zero from 9/11, it always makes me think of myself, just as dazed, standing in the ruins of my own life. I couldn’t find my husband there. I searched and searched but the man I knew and loved had disappeared. I found someone who looked like him but this man couldn’t have been him. He was angry, accusing, disrespectful and unkind to my feelings about the people and country I valued. That came on top of perhaps, his disappointment that I could not seem to a bear him a child.
The loss of our twins collapsed our first tower, and the terrorists effectively demolished our second.
Like so many others, 9/11 brings a sense of futile loss.
It didn’t have to happen.
While I, like most of the country, will never forget what happened, the good news is that I moved on from Ground Zero. God ministered to me during my personal collapses and taught me valuable lessons; my faith now consists of stronger girding and I no longer fear collapse.